In this series with textile testing and certification group Testex, Ragtrader reports on sustainability pioneers in the Australian fashion industry.
Kmart and Target GM of corporate affairs and sustainability: Tracie Walker
Kmart and Target have a 'Better Together' initiative, aimed at minimising the environmental impact of business practices. When did this first launch and what are some key pillars?
As two of the largest retailers in Australia we know that Kmart and Target have a responsibility to care for and respect our planet and all the lives that we touch. We take this responsibility very seriously and have an opportunity to use our relationships and scale to make a difference.
We know that we can’t address the big sustainable development challenges working alone and that by leveraging the scale of both brands we can maximise our impact.
That’s why we developed our Better Together sustainable development program to be one that is built on partnerships. Whether it’s our teams, our customers, suppliers, non-government organisations, factory workers, trade unions, or the broader community, we work hand-in-hand with our partners, treating them with dignity and respect.
When it comes to protecting our planet and improving the lives of the people that live here, we work better together.
Our focus on people is about fostering an inclusive and safe culture to ensure our teams reflect the diversity of the communities in which we operate and ensure all people touched by our businesses are treated fairly and with respect.
This includes our many community programs such as the Kmart Wishing Tree Appeal or the Target Uniting Care Australia Christmas Appeal and our various other local community support projects across both businesses. It also includes our partnerships with organisations like ACT and Better Work which are leading the way on improving wages and working conditions for the people working for suppliers who make our products.
Our commitment to the planet is about minimising our environmental footprint and protecting our planet for future generations. We are doing this through our BCI partnership to source cotton more sustainably across our product ranges at both businesses and our commitments to reduce waste and use natural resources responsibly.
By July 2020, Kmart wants to source 100% of its cotton more sustainably for clothing and home textiles and Target will follow.
What are some of the challenges in sourcing cotton?
Cotton is an important material for both Target and Kmart. Globally the cotton industry supports over 250 million people.
However, despite some progress in recent years, there are a number of social and environmental challenges in some of the countries it is produced, including high water and pesticide use.
As a larger user of cotton, we have a responsibility to source the cotton for our products more sustainably. At Kmart have set a target to source 100% of our cotton fabric more sustainably for our clothing, towel and bedding ranges by July 2020. We’ve made a commitment to do the same at Target which has more clothing ranges by 2021.
As part of this, we’ve become a proud member of the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI).
BCI is the largest cotton sustainability program in the world and exists to make cotton production better for the people who produce it, the environment it grows in and the sectors future. BCI currently accounts for almost 20 per cent of global cotton production and is sourced by over 90 brands and retailers around the world, giving it the scale to really make a difference.
What are some other key sustainability initiatives at Kmart and Target?
Ensuring people working for suppliers making our products achieve a living wage is also an important area of focus. We firmly believe that everyone touched by our businesses should be treated fairly and with respect, whether they shop with us, work for us, or work for a supplier in a factory making our products.
We are proud that our sourcing creates employment opportunities for many workers, but there are challenges in sourcing from some locations that require many different parties working together to address.
This is a complex issue that all retailers face. Simply paying higher prices or imparting stricter standards will not result in factory workers receiving a higher wage or working under better conditions as there are many different parties which have an influence on pay and conditions. Imparting real change can only be done by working in partnership with other retailers, trade unions, suppliers, workers and national governments.
This is why in 2015 we joined other global retailers and brands to collectively work with unions and workers through the ‘Action, Collaboration, Transformation’ (ACT) initiative, which aims to implement a sustainable solution to achieving a living wage.
By December 2023, we will complete implementation of the ACT Global Purchasing Practice Commitments across our global supply chains for Kmart and Target. These have been developed after thorough consultation with unions, suppliers and businesses.
This is a complex issue, however we know that by working together we can make real progress and we are committed to doing this.
Finally, how does Kmart and Target see the future of the industry in developing greener and cleaner solutions? What is in the pipeline looking forward?
Across both businesses it is clear that customers are becoming more environmentally and sustainability conscious.
As well as increasingly wanting more sustainably sourced products, their expectations of businesses are also growing in this regard. Understanding the full life cycle of products is more important than ever and this is why we’re putting a lot of time into understanding how a circular economy can work for our products.
It is imperative that we take responsibility for the role our businesses plays in the communities we operate and for our impact on the planet more broadly. As well as improving the environmental and social footprint of our supply chain and our stores, we are also increasingly focused on making sustainable products.
Like all businesses, we know that there is a lot of work still to do and we will continue to partner with others to maximise the positive impact we can have and are constantly looking at our products and our businesses to identify ways that we can do better.